Research suggests low density of snow leopards in Nepal`s Conservation Area

The snow leopard is a mammal species of the cat family found at high altitudes in Nepal and other countries around the Himalayan range. However, it has been included in the vulnerable category of IUCN Red list of threatened species in recent years for various reasons.

A recent research article published in the journal Banko Janakari suggests that the snow leopard density in the Manaslu region of the country is low despite abundant prey density and cooperation from humans in its conservation.

"We conducted the research in the Manaslu conservation areas because there had been limited studies in this region in the past," says Bishnu Devkota, lead author of the article. "Our research re-established the generally accepted and proven fact that the snow leopard population is dwindling in protected and unprotected regions of Nepal."

The study, which was carried out by laying 14 transects with a total distance of 8.12 kilometres in the Manaslu Conservation Area located in Gorkha district, 200km north-west of the capital Kathmandu, found 3.57 signs per kilometre which indicates a low snow leopard density.

"It is difficult to spot the snow leopard directly as it is a shy animal. We estimated the abundance of snow leopards in a particular area by observing their signs such as scats, pugmarks and scrapes," explains Devkota.

"However, the population of the prey species was high enough to support a larger population of snow leopard," he adds. Blue sheep, Himalayan Tahr, musk deer, Himalayan marmot (Marmota himalayana), Himalayan serow, hare (Lepus oiostolus), Royle's pika (Ochotona roylei) and impeyan pheasant (Lophophorus impejanus) were found to be the main prey species for snow leopard in Manaslu region.

High prey density also meant human-animal conflict in the region. "The locals of the region took the snow leopard as the pet of gods, and they were very cooperative in the conservation of snow leopard," says Mr Devkota. However, conservationists cannot fully rely on the present behaviour of the locals towards the snow leopard for sustainable conservation.

"At present, probably due to ample presence of food in the wild, the snow leopard is not a threat to the domesticated livestock. However, if snow leopards start attacking the livestock, then it is likely that the locals will turn against conservation efforts of snow leopards," says Devkota.

The study was conducted in Chhekampar Village Development Committee in northern Gorkha district, which falls in the Manaslu conservation area. The conservation area was closed to foreign tourists until 1991. Following the opening up of the conservation area for tourists, many tourists have been visiting the area. The snow leopard, along with other wild animals, is one of the attractions for tourists visiting the area.

Mr Devkota says further research is required in the region, which can take the findings of the present research as base data, and also plan for incentive programmes to maintain the positive attitude of locals towards snow leopard conservation.

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